I was first alerted to an interesting article about the impact of Wal-Mart in Concordia, KS and McCook, NE on Larry Paine’s blog site called City Hall Corner. Larry is the City Manager of Concordia and does a wonderful blog on the inner workings of city governments.
The author, Denis Boyles has lived in Concordia for the past year. As he points out in the article in The American Enterprise, McCook and Concordia are both similar in size, 7,700 and 5,400 respectively.
Both towns went through busts in their downtowns. Kirk Lowell, head of ED for Concordia said it best in the article, “At one point in the mid ‘80s we had 17 or 18 empty storefronts. I called it ‘Tumbleweed Alley’ because there was nothing there…I used to say you could commit suicide by laying down in the middle of the street on a Saturday, buy you probably wouldn’t die until Monday. There were just no cars.”
McCook’s story was very similar. When they appeared to hit bottom, Wal-Mart moved into town and “everyone assumed it would be the final nail in the coffin of local commerce. But, the result wasn’t what anyone expected.”
McCook lost four supermarkets and there was only one left in Concordia. But that lone survivor invested $1.2 million into an expansion and changed the way it did business. A new grocery started in McCook last year with the same philosophy.
Larry Paine is quoted in the article, “I had one person come up to me and say, ‘Larry, this town is dying. Why don’t you just let it die gracefully?” Paine handed him a list of 60 new businesses, local investments and business expansions. “This is what we did instead.”
There is a life with Wal-Mart as this article explains. I see it over and over as I travel around the country. Generally, small towns appreciate their Wal-Marts and the most complaints are from towns that don’t have one or that didn’t allow one to build in their town years ago and today regret having let the big fish swim to a neighboring town.